I’m a 35-year-old man with a wife and two-year-old son, and my family and I have been living in a foreign country. I have been working for the same company for the past 11 years. My problem is that I have problems when speaking that I think will keep me from advancing to a higher paying position. The main part of the problem is that I am always searching for words when I’m speaking. I have had these problems even when I was in my native land speaking my native language. However, the problem is worse now that I have to speak a different language all the time. People notice the problem and they think that maybe I’m not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to be in a higher position. I want to overcome this problem. Is there any help for me?
Our Clinical Psychologist’s Reply
Word-finding difficulty is just one of a variety of speech and language problems that cause frustration for millions of individuals. Technically, the inability to put a “name” to a known entity is called anomia. Anomia can occur because of some kind of language processing impairment. When that kind of impairment is mild to moderate it is called dysphasia and when it is more extreme it is called aphasia. Anomia can also occur as part of a specific disability in developing language skills.
Language processing problems occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re associated with some kind of brain injury or trauma. They can also occur with normal aging or disease processes like dementia. As mentioned before, some language processing problems can also be the result of specific learning disabilities.
Speech and language pathologists are trained to diagnose and treat the various problems people can have with oral or written language. Once the nature and scope of the problems are determined, a treatment plan can be devised. People who are plagued by speech and language problems can learn effective strategies to compensate for, and even overcome, their deficiencies. When it comes to word-finding problems, one strategy is to enhance a technique that many people with word-finding problems already use called “circumlocution.” This is where the person who can’t readily pull the word they want out of their brain deliberately “goes all around” the subject when talking in the hope that some related word or idea will eventually help in recalling the actual word. When speech and language therapists teach this technique, however, they help a person use this strategy in a much more structured and more sophisticated way so that it’s more effective yet not as easily detected by others. The circumlocution technique, however, is only one of many techniques a trained therapist can teach you to enhance your communication skill.
So, take heart and get a good referral to a well-credentialled speech and language pathologist/therapist. It might even be a good idea to find one who is multilingual and who can work with you in each of the languages that you speak. Once the exact nature of your difficulties are understood and you have a specific therapy plan to address them, you’ll eventually feel much better about your ability to communicate more effectively and give others a much more accurate picture of the level of knowledge you truly have.